A Family to Come Home To (Saddle Falls)

BOOK: A Family to Come Home To (Saddle Falls)
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Jesse couldn’t stop staring at Hannah. She was the most wonderful woman he’d ever met. She deserved everything in the world.
 

But he wasn’t certain he could give her anything.

 

He didn’t know if he had anything to give.

 

To her. To the Ryans. To anyone.

 

He’d promised himself he’d stay emotionally detached—uninvolved until he sorted out his memories and had time to figure things out.

 

He glanced at Hannah again. How on earth could he sort anything out when all he could do was think about her? And how much he wanted—needed—her?

 

She deserved a man who was permanent, a husband who’d give her all that she wanted, needed and deserved. And a man who could be a father to her daughter, Riley. A real father, one who could love openly with no hesitation.

 

How could Jesse give Hannah or Riley any part of himself when he still didn’t know who he was?

 

Dear Reader,

 

This May, we celebrate Mother’s Day and a fabulous month of uplifting romances. I’m delighted to introduce RITA
®
Award finalist Carol Stephenson, who debuts with her heartwarming reunion romance,
Nora’s Pride
. Carol writes, “
Nora’s Pride
is very meaningful to me, as my mother, my staunchest fan and supporter, passed away in May 2000. I’m sure she’s smiling down at me from heaven. She passionately believed this would be my first sale.” A must-read for your list!

 

The Princess and the Duke
, by Allison Leigh, is the second book in the CROWN AND GLORY series. Here, a princess and a duke share a kiss, but can their love withstand the truth about a royal assassination? We have another heart-thumper from the incomparable Marie Ferrarella with
Lily and the Lawman
, a darling city-girl-meets-small-town-boy romance.

 

In
A Baby for Emily
, Ginna Gray delivers an emotionally charged love story in which a brooding hero lays claim to a penniless widow who, unbeknownst to her, is carrying
their
child…. Sharon De Vita pulls on the heartstrings with
A Family To Come Home To
, in which a rugged rancher searches for his family and finds true love! You also won’t want to miss Patricia McLinn’s
The Runaway Bride
, a humorous tale of a sexy cowboy who rescues a distressed bride.

 

I hope you enjoy these exciting books from Silhouette Special Edition—the place for love, life and family. Come back for more winning reading next month!

 

Sincerely,

 

Karen Taylor Richman

Senior Editor

A Family To Come Home To
 
SHARON DE VITA
 

 

This book is dedicated with sincere awe, appreciation and thanks
to the incredibly courageous men and women of the New York Fire and
Police Departments who truly define the word
heroes
. And to everyone
who has ever worn the uniform of our great country, including my own
husband, Colonel Frank Noland Cushing (Ret), for not just defending
our country and our freedoms, but for having the courage to stand tall
in the face of evil and never waver no matter what the odds.
We are awed by your courage, proud of your accomplishments
and eternally thankful for your commitment.

Books by Sharon De Vita

Silhouette Special Edition

 

Child of Midnight
#1013

*
The Lone Ranger
#1078

*
The Lady and the Sheriff
#1103

*
All It Takes Is Family
#1126


The Marriage Basket
#1307


The Marriage Promise
#1313

††
With Family in Mind
#1450

††
A Family To Come Home To
#1468

Silhouette Books

 

The Coltons

I Married a Sheik

Silhouette Romance

 

Heavenly Match
#475

Lady and the Legend
#498

Kane and Mabel
#545

Baby Makes Three
#573

Sherlock’s Home
#593

Italian Knights
#610

Sweet Adeline
#693

**
On Baby Patrol
#1276

**
Baby with a Badge
#1298

**
Baby and the Officer
#1316


The Marriage Badge
#1443

††
Anything for Her Family
#1580

††
A Family To Be
#1586

SHARON DE VITA,
 

a former adjunct professor of literature and communications, is a
USA Today
bestselling, award-winning author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction. Her first novel won a national writing competition for Best Unpublished Romance Novel of 1985. This award-winning book,
Heavenly Match
, was subsequently published by Silhouette in 1985. Sharon has over two million copies of her novels in print, and her professional credentials have earned her a place in
Who’s Who in American Authors, Editors and Poets
as well as the
International Who’s Who of Authors
. In 1987, Sharon was the proud recipient of the
Romantic Times
Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Writing.

 

A newlywed, Sharon met her husband while doing research for one of her books. The widowed, recently retired military officer was so wonderful, Sharon decided to marry him after she interviewed him! Sharon and her new husband have seven grown children, five grandchildren, and currently reside in Arizona.

 
 

 
Prologue
 

Southwind Community Hospital
Southwind, Texas

 

T
ime was running out.

Grace Garland knew that in these last few moments of life she had to make right a wrong or she’d never have any peace.

With her eyes glazed with pain, she licked her lips and lovingly looked at her son.

Her son.

He’d always been her pride and joy. Her sole reason for living. It hadn’t been easy being a woman alone raising a child, but she’d always felt he was her very own miracle.

Oh, how she’d loved him, nurtured him, guided him.

And lied to him.

“J-Jesse?” Lifting a trembling hand, she touched his face. A face she’d loved from the moment she’d laid eyes on it so many years ago.

“Mama.” His smile was gentle. “It’s all right, Ma. I’m here.” The deep timbre of his voice was shaky with grief. “Rest now, Ma, save your strength.”

“No. Jesse, son, there’s something I…have to…tell…you.”

Rocked by unbearable pain, her eyes slid closed and the memories came again. Fractured, disjointed, but so very vivid and real. With some effort, she remembered the day he’d come to her.

Just a small boy, terribly frightened, terribly alone. He was only five, but his glorious blue eyes were haunted by some fear she could only imagine.

Her son.

She had to tell him the truth. Had to tell him she’d lied to him; a lie that had haunted her for almost twenty years.

“Jesse.” Forcing her eyes open again, she struggled to focus on him. He was a man now. A strong, fine man. Even grown, he remained a loner who had never quite come out of his shell, at least not with others.

Whatever had happened to him before he’d come to her, he’d never spoken of it. She wasn’t even sure he remembered it. At the time it didn’t seem important. Now it was the most important thing in the world.

“Jesse.” She whispered his name again. It was getting harder to breathe, the pain was creeping closer. “I have to tell you something, son.”

Tenderly, he stroked the hair from her dampened forehead. “Don’t try to talk, Ma. Just rest. It can wait.”

“No.” The word croaked out and she reached for his hand, held on like a lifeline. The pain was stealing over her body, sapping the little bit of strength she had left. “I…I have to tell you now, before it’s too late.”

“Ma, please, don’t talk like that.” Panic ripped through him; he was losing her. She was his mother, the only family he’d ever known. And now she was dying and there was nothing he could do about it.

“Jesse, I love you more than anything in the world—” She had to swallow. “But, Jesse, you’re not my son. You were stolen as a child.”

Pain sliced through her, cutting off her breath. A whimper escaped and her eyes slid closed, but she knew she had to go on, to do this final act of love. For him. Always for him.

“What?” Panicked and confused, Jesse almost dismissed her words as ramblings brought on by the enormous amount of pain and medication. But her eyes fluttered open and for a brief moment they were clear and bright as they met his, and he knew in that instant she was telling him the truth.

A terrible fear like a living thing sprang up, encompassing his whole being, shaking the foundation of everything he believed. He wanted to tell her to stop, that it didn’t matter, wasn’t important. But he couldn’t.

“W-what are you talking about, Ma?” His gaze searched her face. “Mama?”

“Jesse, twenty years ago my half brother, Charlie…Lord, I loved him, but he was always in trouble. Well, he got himself into some real serious financial trouble. His wealthy wife was divorcing him, and he owed money to some very bad people. Charlie, he always had some get-rich-quick scheme, but this time he outdid himself.”

Jesse struggled to contain the emotions churning through him. “What did he do?”

Grace had to fight for breath through the ever-increasing pain. “He had this idea, supposedly harmless, he said, but it would solve all his financial problems. He was going to kidnap one of the sons of some very prominent family, hold him for a few days until the family paid the ransom, then return the kid to his family.”

The fear grew, snaking along Jesse’s skin like a virulent virus, covering every inch of his mind, his emotions. “What…what happened?”

“Something went wrong. Apparently one of the ladies Charlie had been seeing took it upon herself to write a ransom note as well, so Charlie knew he’d never get any money out of the family.” Her breath came out in short, jerky gasps, but she was determined to continue. “Charlie was terrified because he had this kid he didn’t know what to do with, and he was frantic that the authorities might be on to him and the people he owed money were looking for him. He knew he had to disappear until things cooled off, but he didn’t know what to do with the little boy.” Grace squeezed Jesse’s hand, drawing it to her cheek to feel his warmth one last time.

He didn’t want to ask, didn’t want to know, even though deep in the recesses of his heart he suddenly knew. And it brought on a wave of sadness and grief he’d never known existed before.

“Mama…the little boy…what did…Charlie do with the little boy?”

She hesitated for a long moment, her eyes fluttering closed before finally opening again. She took a long, labored breath that slowly wheezed out of her.

Panicked, Jesse’s gaze shifted to the machines next to the bed monitoring her vital signs. They were weak and shaky. The familiar beep of the heart monitor grew weaker, slower.

“Mama?” He waited until she’d gathered enough strength to speak.

“He brought that boy to me, Jesse. Charlie always knew how badly I wanted babies. I’d never made a secret of it, but an infection in my teens ruined any chance I had of giving birth. It was a heartbreak I almost couldn’t bear. So when Charlie asked me to take care of the little boy for a while…” Her voice trailed off and she met his gaze again. “I couldn’t refuse.” She paused. “Jesse, that boy was…you.”

He stared at her in disbelief for a moment, a torrent of emotions shocking, then rocking him.

“Oh God.” Jesse lowered his head, fought back the grief and all the other emotions that were so strong he felt as if he was choking on them.

“I’m sorry I lied to you, son. But I fell in love with you right from the start. You were just a little bitty thing back then, barely five and scared to death. You didn’t speak for almost a year.”

He hadn’t spoken for a year? Feeling desperate, and slightly sick, Jesse forced himself to concentrate on the myriad questions that suddenly had no answers. “Ma, what…what happened to Charlie?”

She hesitated, then said, “Don’t rightly know. I never heard from him again. I reckon he might have been killed or something, otherwise I would have heard from him for sure.”

“He just took off and left me with you?” Jesse couldn’t hide the horror in his voice, his heart.

“Guess he didn’t know what else to do. He never told me who you really were, and I didn’t want to know, because then I figured I would have had to honor my Christian duty and return you to your family—your real family, and Jesse, honey, I couldn’t bear to do that. I simply couldn’t.” Tears spilled down her cheeks and she paused to try to get her breath. “Oh, I thought about turning you over to the authorities, but truth be told, I loved you so much by then I was so afraid of losing you. Afraid too, if I called the authorities, I’d go to jail as well for helping Charlie. I was young, son, and scared, and all I knew was that I finally had what I’d always wanted all along—a child. So…I did the only thing I could, the only thing I knew how to do. I kept my mouth shut, and considered myself blessed. I raised you as my own, honey. But I loved you so by then, son. In my heart, you
were
my son.”

Son.

Jesse’s head jerked up.
He wasn’t her son.
Had never been her son. He’d been born to someone else, another family. A family he’d been stolen from so many years ago.

Who the hell was he?

The distress on his face frightened Grace in a way nothing had in a long time.

“Jesse, please try to understand. I did what I thought was best—” Pain sliced through her, cutting off her words and her eyes slid closed to try to block out the pain. Tears warmed her cheeks as she tried to continue, knowing the truth could cost her the only thing that had ever mattered to her.

“Mama? Ma!” With his thumb, Jesse tenderly wiped her tears, feeling his own throat burn and his own eyes grow moist. He was losing her in so many ways, and he didn’t know if he could handle any of them. “Mama, please, can you hear me? Talk to me, please!”

Her eyes fluttered open. Grace struggled to get Jesse in focus. The pain was too strong now, hazing her vision, blurring her thoughts. She clung to his hand, not wanting to let go, not wanting to lose him, not now.

“I’m dying, Jesse—”

“No, no, don’t say that.” Raw panic grabbed him. “Don’t say that, Ma.”

“Hush, now, son, I’m dying and there’s no denying it.” She hesitated, then tried to smile, all the while trying to get some air into her aching lungs. “I want you to do something for me, Jesse. Please? Do this one last thing for me?”

He hunched forward in the chair in order to hear her. “What, Ma, what? Anything. I’ll do anything you ask. You know that.” He always had; he always would. She was his mother. Nothing—nothing would change that.

“All these years…I’ve worried about your kin, wondered about them. I can’t imagine what they must have gone through losing you like that.” She clung to his hand. “I’m so sorry for what I did to them. And to you, Jesse, especially to you.”

He couldn’t ever remember crying, but he felt hot tears sting the back of his eyes now. “Ma—”

“No, Jesse, listen to me.” With a strength that surprised him, she squeezed his hand. “I want you to find your family, Jesse, do you hear me? Find your real kin. Find them so they can finally have some peace. It’s time, Jesse, time for you to go home.”

Home?

He thought he was home; thought
she
was his home.

“Ma, I don’t even know—” He dragged a hand through his hair, trying to think, to make sense of this. His whole life had been a lie. He didn’t even know who he was anymore. “I don’t know if I even want to—well, hell, I don’t reckon I even know who I am.” He couldn’t hide the anguish in his voice.

“Jesse…” With her last ounce of strength, she fought for breath. “You’re a smart man, Jesse, you’ll find them. Promise me you will, Jesse?” Her eyes fluttered closed, and Jesse waited, his mind refusing to accept the reality of what was happening, what she’d told him.

“I…promise, Ma.” He had no idea what he was promising, his mind was too clouded by shock and grief, but he would have promised her anything at this moment.

Grace struggled for one last breath, struggled to open her eyes to see her beloved son one last time. “Oh, Jesse.” She clung to his hand, tears clouding her vision of him. “Forgive me, son.” She clung to him, not wanting to break this one last connection. “I love you. I’ve always loved you. You must believe that—” Pain cut off her words, causing her to groan. Her eyes closed and a long, slow breath slipped free and she went very still.

“Mama?” Numb with a host of emotions he couldn’t even begin to sort out or understand, his frantic gaze went to the machines. The sounds and motions were slow, sluggish.

“Mama?” He wanted to will life into her, but he knew it was hopeless. “Oh, Ma. I love you.” The machines slowly bleeped to a stop until nothing filled the room but unending silence.

Sitting by his mother’s bed, still holding her hand, Jesse wept.

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